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Images of Team Babbits at the final round of the AX Championship at Orleans Stadium, Las Vegas
NEWS

Jacob Hayes: The Last Arenacross Champion

May 142018

Ever since he stepped foot into the AMA Arenacross Series Jacob Hayes has made his presence felt. He went bar-to-bar with perennial champion Tyler Bowers and has parlayed that lack of intimidation into becoming a consistent title contender. Year in and year out Hayes has been one of the select title favorites, but for one reason or another that coveted title has eluded him. This season all that changed and Hayes has gotten the proverbial monkey of his back at the 2018 AMA Arenacross Champion.

His road to the Ricky Carmichael Cup wasn’t an easy one. He battled through an early injury, endured a freak on-track incident with a track worker, and then overcame a point deficit in the closing stages of the season to emerge triumphant. Ironically, mere days after he finally broke through with the championship he’s been chasing for the past several seasons, the news broke that the series was coming to an end. After years of coming up short, Hayes’ championship victory will be the lasting memory of this unique and exciting championship. Now Hayes’ attentionturns to what’s next, and Monster Energy caught up with the Babbitt’s Kawasaki rider to talk about the season that was, and what lies ahead.

Q&A

You’re finally arenacross champion! That has to feel good right? Tell us about your journey.

It feels like a monkey’s been lifted off of my back. That sucker was pretty heavy over my arenacross career. I almost had it (the championship) in 2015, but I made a really bonehead move and threw it away. So, it feels great to get the title and end my arenacross career on top. It was nice to repay the Babbitt’s Online/Monster Energy/Kawasaki crew. Those guys stuck behind me 100 percent throughout my career, and it was amazing to wrap it up in Las Vegas.

You could see that tensions were running really high at the last few rounds of the season. Talk about what that was like and how much more intense it made things coming down to the end.

After missing all of last year I knew the intensity was going to be high for the points reset, but gosh it was at a whole new level. We restarted in Nampa (Idaho) and my teammate Gavin Faith got hurt unfortunately, which was horrible to see. So I knew it was going to be tight between me and Chris (Blose), and boy was it ever. Every MainEvent and every head-to-head mattered. I actually made a pretty big mistake in Portland going down in the second Main Event pretty early, and only being able to fight my way back up to fourth. So we only had two rounds left in Reno and Vegas. Honestly, after Portland I wasn’t even sure if this was a possibility. Me and him (Blose) were going 1-2 pretty much every Main Event, and with only being able to make up a couple points here or there, I knew it was going to be tough. But, we had a crazy night in Reno and we were able to make up points there and head into the final round in Vegas one point down. Unfortunately, Chris got hurt in the Heat Race, which sucks, because I think we were both prepared to do whatever it took to win the title since it would have been either of our first title. We were both ready to rock and roll, but to end it out on top is incredible.

This title has been a long time coming for you. Seemingly every year you’ve been in the thick of the title fight, but things never quite panned out. What was different about this season, and what did you learn from those past experiences that helped you make it happen this year?

I guess my experience definitely played into it. I knew how to stay calm amidst all the chaos and craziness, especially coming into the final round. I had been in that position in 2015, so I knew just to stay cool, calm and collected this year. I needed to keep my head on and just go out there and do my job. I knew if I did that I would end up on top. The whole team was just really behind me. We had Pro Circuit motors and Pro Circuit suspension, which had the bike just insane all year. It was so good that I think we changed one or two clicks all year. To have the setup that good all year is unreal, because when you enter the season you think you’re all ready for Round 1 and then you find out that you’re a little off. But that wasn’t the case. Like I said, we didn’t change anything, so I was so comfortable on the motorcycle that it was pretty much just left up to me to go out there and get it done.

What is the most difficult part of trying to win an arenacross title? It’s a much different format from what most of us are accustomed to, so what is something that the typical fan doesn’t realize about being successful in this series?

I just think everyone is so close. The lap times are anywhere from 20 to 25 seconds, so there’s not a whole lot of room for mistakes, or to gain on another rider. And with the points structure the way it is, you can only make up one point winning the Main Event to the guy that finishes second. Then you have the two-lap head-to-head races where you can gain another point if you win there. So I think you just always have to be on your game every single weekend. There’s no mistakes to be made in the head-to-head or either Main Event because if there is a mistake made, there’s no way to make up any huge lump sums of points, so you have to be on your toes every weekend. So, when the points reset and you only have five rounds until the championship ends, out of 12 total rounds, it makes it even more intense. The stress level is through the roof, and I think that’s what makes everything in arenacross different than anything else.

Thanks to the intimate nature of the tracks, no one gets through any arenacross season without a little controversy. Is being aggressive a necessity if you truly want to achieve success? What have you learned about choosing when and when not to push those limits?

I think coming into 2014 I learned a lot with the aggression side of arenacross. What to do, what not to do, and when to go for it. And then with the points reset it kind of changes things (as well). In beginning part of the season when you might go for it on a regular night, you sort of control yourself and tell yourself to save that. Keep it in your pocket until the points reset, and when they do, you kind of throw everything you got at it. There’s definitely a time to go in there and make aggressive passes, and then there’s a time to hold back and be smart. But, I think I’ve done a really good job at learning how to get in there and make the aggressive passes. I know people don’t like it sometimes, but there’s a lot on the line. I have a lot of heart and I work so hard. I want to win really bad.

Adversity also seems to be part of the norm in arenacross. You never get through a season without going through something. Whether it be injuries or just a bad night, how has all of that impacted you and made you into the champion that you are today?

Well, being the 2018 arenacross champion I had 11 podiums in 12 rounds. I mean, if you would have asked me that at Round 1 I definitely wouldn’t have put those numbers together for myself because I came into the season with a broken scapula. I had to soldier through the first four rounds, and I was really struggling riding during the week. I could only ride pretty much half a day here and there because I was just trying to heal. Then I had a crazy night in Denver, which I’m pretty sure everyone has seen by now.Myself and a track worker were involved in an incident. It was really unfortunate, but I’m glad I wasn’t hurt and neither was the track worker. Mistakes happen and it was just a crazy incident that took me out of the night, but we rallied back. It was a tough setback to lose the points like that going into the points reset, and we were fighting each and every night after that to get those points back. Like I’ve said many times, it’s hard to get those points back when a guy like Chris Blose, with so much experience, isn’t going to make those mistakes. I feel like I wasn’t really making those mistakes either, so we were really keeping each other honest. I think it went for two or three rounds when I gained one point, and he gained one point back. I felt like we were only one point apart for like three weekends. It was just one of those crazy seasons and there was definitely a lot of ups and downs. Fortunately, there were more ups than downs, but the entire Babbitt’s team was just behind me every step of the way and I think that’s why we are where we are (as champion).

If you could sum it all up, what is the biggest impact that arenacross has had on you as a racer? How will that carry you into the future of your career?

I think dealing with the team pressure, the pressure on yourself, the people watching, the tv, the social media; I think it’s all really prepared me for the next stage. Now that my arenacross career is over I’m going after supercross. I want to go in there and I want to mix it up with those guys. I feel like I have a lot of speed to offer. I’m not afraid to get aggressive and I make passes quickly, so I feel moving into supercross I’m going to be able to take all the experience that I’ve learned in arenacross, and I think it will do nothing but good in supercross.

With the recent news that arenacross is now coming to an end, how did this news impact you?

I believe I was first told about (arenacross ending) in Madison, Wisconsin. Well, I wasn’t told, but I heard people saying that arenacross is going to be over. So, I went to (team manager) Denny Bartz and asked him, but he said he hadn’t heard anything about that. Then I went up to the guy that puts on the show in arenacross, Bill Heras, and he said he hadn’t heard anything either. So, I figured it was just a rumor. You know how rumors get going. Then, it was after Reno, Denny sat me down and told me Vegas will be the final arenacross. My initial reaction was thinking that I want to win the title even more now, because I’ll be the last champion of arenacross! But, I don’t know. I think it was a little bit of a blessing in disguise. I’ve always wanted to be racing supercross, and I’ve seen myself there for many years now, but I’ve had a really good home with the Babbitt’s guys in arenacross. Now it just gives me no setbacks. I need to go in there and mix it up with the supercross guys.

You’ll forever be known as the final Arenacross Champion. Is that kind of a cool feeling?

It really is. To have my name on the Ricky Carmichael Cup and to be the last name that’s on there, it’s nice to do and nice to have. To go out on top…I don’t know how you’d call my arenacross career. Successful? I’ve gotten two seconds, a third, and first. I was always up there battling for the title and I finally was able to pull all of it together this year. That was the most rewarding thing, to repay the Babbitt’s guys back and myself, just to sort of pat myself on the back for finally finishing the job.

Who would you like to thank for supporting you through this journey and helping you achieve this long-awaited goal? Who had the biggest impact on your success?

It definitely has to be Denny Bartz. I have to give a lot of things up to him and he’s always stuck by me. This year he was really supportive of me, just always keeping me calm, cool and collected, and reminding me what the end goal was, which was the championship. We all wanted to win it so bad that he never gave up on me. I think the week before Vegas he was calling me two to three times a day, just checking on me to make sure things were going good. He’s just such an incredible dude and runs such an incredible program. We’re really good friends and he’s been a really good team manager to me. The whole Babbitt’s Online crew, Monster Energy Kawasaki, Moose, Parts Unlimited, 100%, Alpinestars, Pro Circuit, Dunlop Tires, just everyone. It was an incredible journey and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

What’s next for Jacob Hayes?

I’ve talked to some teams about doing outdoors this season. Hopefully no one gets hurt, I would never want anyone to get hurt, but they told me to be ready. That I’d be first on the list if anyone did get hurt, but like I said, I hope no one does. So right now I’m just training and riding outdoors. I’m (also) talking to some teams about doing 2019 supercross. There’s nothing set it stone, but we’re definitely doing some talking. I want to get in there and mix it up with those guys. I feel like I have a lot to offer, and hopefully something works out.

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